So here’s how the story goes. A man becomes seriously ill to the point it’s life-threatening. His sisters are worried. They send an urgent message to a family friend who is a phenomenal teacher and healer. Come quickly. Please, it’s urgent.
He doesn’t. The man dies.
For four days Lazarus is dead. Since so few of us have died and come back to talk about it (four days I’m saying) we don’t really know what it was like for him during that time. Was he aware of time? Was he asleep? Was he somewhere else, another dimension?
Whether he was asleep or elsewhere, at some point Lazarus became aware he was now in a very dark place, a cool, deadening place, firmly wrapped in a blanket of cloth and ointment. If he remembered being so gravely ill, my hunch is he didn’t feel like that now. If he remembered hurting with the pain that so often is this life, I think he felt no suffering now.
We can’t know for sure where he was. He might not have known where he was. However strange it was, it had to have been more peaceful than the process of dying.
Wherever he was, and however he was, he then heard a Voice, a familiar voice, the voice of his friend. “Lazarus, come here.”
Where was “here”? “Here” was back into the world where suffering is common and hope often deferred.
He had a choice to make. Perhaps if he ignored the Voice it would go away. He could stay where life in this realm couldn’t hurt him anymore. He could stay safe. He could cling to comfort where he had found it.
Lazarus made his choice. He got up from where he was and he followed the Voice.
Occasionally our lives have moments that bear resemblance to the day Lazarus woke up to the Voice. I don’t mean we find ourselves in a Middle Eastern tomb with Jesus standing outside calling our name. I mean we can be moving along in life, gravitating to those places of comfort and safety where suffering is mitigated and fear is dialed down.
And then we hear a Voice in the distance. It’s not clear. It’s hard to hear over the din and stimulation of our lives. But if we notice it and then listen—which are two different things, let’s be honest here, we hear lots of things we never really listen to—if we notice and then listen, sometimes we get a glimmer of clarity.
And if we hear and then listen and then recognize the glimmer of clarity, we have a choice to make. Do we get up? Do we risk laying aside the blankets of insulation and comfort we cling to? Do we risk walking out of our shadows of safety into vulnerability and exposure?
This is the question we have to face time and again if we’re interested in a genuine spirituality.
The search for a robust spirituality is to hear the Voice of heaven (Jesus) through the gauze and goo that so easily enwraps us in this life. And not only to hear the Voice but to listen to it and to follow it.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” writes the psalmist.
“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts,” writes the author of Hebrews, repeatedly.
So hearing and listening and obeying the Voice has to do with our hearts. Our hearts are easily hardened. Some of our hearts are hardened because we don’t think we’re worth speaking to. Think about your own heart. Does your heart feel like you are a person God is interested in? Cares about? Will speak to?
So, hearts that are willing to believe that we are worth speaking to are open, softer hearts. Others of us have hearts that are hardened because we’re too busy, or too preoccupied. And some of us have hearts that think they know better than anyone else; these are hearts that need no other voice.
It’s openness that matters, and then paying attention to the specifics. Because the Voice is usually not vague. “Come out, Lazarus.”
Come look at this. Come out of there. Come do this with me. Come give me that you’re holding onto. The Voice gives us direction, and the direction is life.
“Come to me, all who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”
I’m learning that recovery and the truly spiritual life are flip sides of the same coin. The genuine and robust spiritual life is a life of recovery. It may be recovery from independence or codependence or dependence. It might be recovery from isolation or pride, envy or resentment, or other things entirely.
Spiritual growth is moving from disintegrated to integrated living, from and fractured thinking and feeling to wholeness. And that’s what recovery is.
Each day is a gift. Each day is opportunity. Are we hearing? Are we listening? Are we following?